We all know that if you drink and drive, you’re a bloody idiot.
It’s a serious offence, and penalties range from fines to loss of licence and even imprisonment.
There are four main parts to the process: getting caught with a blood alcohol limit above 0.05, collecting evidence, explaining yourself to a magistrate, and dealing with the consequences.
Here’s how it goes down in real life
Let me tell you about the first time I sat through a drink driving case.
I was an impressionable young law student helping out at Sunshine Magistrates’ Court in Melbourne’s western suburbs, and my client and I had to sit through a couple of cases before hers was called.
One of them, involving a local restaurant manager aged in his 40s, I’ll never forget.
The magistrate had been in a pretty good mood all day, but as the prosecutor read the facts of this case his smile disappeared. He leaned forward in his chair and he folded his arms.
The restaurant manager was pulled over driving 70km/h in a 40 zone. Police tried to administer a routine breath test, but the man was so wasted he couldn’t actually speak.
When they opened the car door, he fell out of the driver’s seat onto the road, so officers picked him up and took him back to the station so he didn’t hurt himself (or anyone else).
As they began asking questions and prepared to take an evidentiary breath test, he started vomiting up his guts. One officer grabbed a bucket, while another set about cleaning up the mess.
Just when we all thought things couldn’t get worse, the man became belligerent, and started shouting abuse at the officers, before throwing his chunder-bucket at them.
When the time came for him to explain himself to the magistrate, however, the vomiting drunk driver turned on the charm.
“You want an adjournment so you can get a lawyer?” the magistrate asked.
“Yes, your Honour,” he replied meekly.
“See the thing is, you’re going to jail,” the magistrate said. “I can send you to jail now, or you can pay for a lawyer and I’ll send you to jail then.”
Things you need to think about
According to Andrew Tiedt, a partner at Armstrong Legal in Sydney, there are a couple of key things you should consider if you get caught drink driving.
- Get a lawyer. “As a starting point, you should get legal advice. People usually don’t realise what is relevant and is not relevant, and what defences are or are not available. For example, police can’t breath test you in your own house. Morally, that’s not much of a defence, but legally it is.”
- Consider the Traffic Offenders’ Program. “If you are pleading guilty, it’s a great idea to do the traffic offenders program. As far as going to court, gathering a few references and writing a letter of remorse are always helpful things to do – but you should speak to a lawyer! Even if you can’t afford one, community legal centres are a good way to go. Lots of people go to jail for drink driving every year. Don’t necessarily assume there’s no defence to a charge.”
- Be respectful in court. “Dress respectfully, speak respectfully, answer questions you’re asked. While the magistrate does want to hear your side of the story and find out a bit about you, you need to listen to what they say. Every court is run differently, so speaking to the court officer is also good idea. Don’t just roll into court and hope for the best.”
When the magistrate is deciding on a sentence, he or she will consider factors like whether you have prior convictions, the amount of alcohol that was in your system, and your character.
The maximum penalty for a repeat offender caught high-range drink driving (which means a blood alcohol content reading over 0.15) in NSW is two years behind bars, a $5500 fine, an automatic licence disqualification and four years with an alcohol interlock device fitted to their car.
Still think it’s fine to drive home after a few?
If you’re still not convinced drink driving is a terrible idea, do yourself a favour and watch the video at the top of this page.
The clip, from TV show Highway Patrol, shows a young man who crashed his fully sick car in such a way the back two wheels ended up fully parked on a garden while the front bumper was fully smashed.
“What’s happened, mate? What’s going on?” the officer asked.
“I’m just waiting for a mate!” the driver drawled.
In a single phrase, he became an Australian legend for all the wrong reasons.
Maaaaate. Don’t drink and drive.